|"The man with each foot on a different boat will soon be standing in the river."|| The run begins on the Day of the Early Fox in the Month of the Phoenix in the third Year of the Spider since the burning of the Black Spire.|
The run takes place in the City of Spires, and south in the New Rivers area.
An Interrupted Journey
Yanyu, dropping by briefly, considers what women in the City of Spires might be appropriate to introduce to Master Deng. She hears there will be a Royal Party later, so pulls a few strings to invite two of them, and mentions their names to Cai Wen in case he wants to try to throw them together. Kasumi, also in the City of Spires for training, is told by her new mentor (she owes a favor to the House of Night's Promise for recent training) that she will have an assignment at an upcoming party, so she goes shopping to buy a party dress, in light floral pinks and greens. The dressmaker advises her - try not to look as if she is on hold all the time - sometimes at a party, one will want to appear pleasantly surprised.
Back in Rejoicing Industry, before the circus starts heading south, Ringmaster Te comes around to check to make sure everyone is qualified for their circus act. He doesn’t want another accident such as the one that killed poor Lijuan. He quizzes Anto on his flame juggling - what precautions does he take? Who has he studied under? Anto ends up being instructed to buy a level of First Aid, and a level of KS: Fire. Xiao Fa is assigned to buy a point of dexterity, and Yoshi will have to buy his Danger Chef skill up to five.
Grasshopper (who is an ink-brush artist, not a crayon sketcher) paints a picture:
The circus train starts heading south, including the particularly fancy carriage mixed in among Li Merit's train of trade wagons, belonging to Baron Song.
When the circus stops for lunch, there seems to be some confusion in the dining tent, with people and things out of place. Master Zhou and Cai Wen notice that one of the cooks only came in once, to give soup to Yoshi but nobody else. Xiao Fa thinks that Yoshi's soup might be a slightly different color from everyone else's, which is also suspicious. However, in the observing and sneaking, it takes a while for anyone to suggest that Yoshi stop eating his soup, so he does eat most of it. As the solo cook isn't familiar looking, Cai Wen grabs Zhi-Hao, and they head out of the tent to follow him. By the time they spot him, he's a cloud of dust on a horse riding off into the distance. Zhi-Hao, who is wearing the Magpie Amulet, starts sprinting after him, and Cai Wen goes to get a horse.
Zhi-Hao catches up after a while, and shouts at the guy to stop. At this point, the guy is terrified (as well he should be), and refuses, chopping at Zhi-Hao with his sword, which the latter easily parries.
- "I could just kill the horse, but I'll do that later." -Zhi-Hao
Zhi-Hao leaps onto the horse behind the rider. The guy tries to head-butt him, but Deng manages to put his sword in between them, cutting them both, and then finally gets him to stop, as Cai Wen arrives on the circus horse. The rider admits having put the powder in Yoshi’s soup, so they drag him back to the circus.
Meanwhile, Xiao Fa assigns Anto as Yoshi's minder while Xiao Fa investigates Yoshi's leftover soup - he manages to identify a mystery ingredient as a drug used by some priests and monks in meditation to achieve a closer communion with spiritual chi. Hmm. That's not the usual sort of poison. At this point, Yoshi's metabolized enough of it that it'll have an effect on him, and purging won't help much.
Anto follows Yoshi around, watching as Ringmaster Te lectures him and then he goes to practice in the kitchen tent. Xiao Fa, having done with his preliminary investigations, finds Yoshi in the kitchen tent and decides that the healing tent is better, lest he chop himself in his Danger Chef practices.When Cai Wen and Zhi-Hao return with their prisoner, a Circle of Spite tattoo is quickly found on him. betrayal in the Forest of Chin. He was paid, and a note was left with the poison, suggesting vengeance upon his enemy with it. After some discussion, the prisoner is left to be talked at by Yoshi for a while, and then released.
Exactly what the point of a non-poisonous poison is is still unclear, though. Cai Wen wonders if this is the sort of thing Reiko could have set up, and concludes that she could have, but why would she? She doesn't have a subtle bone in her body, and her plans are never this confusing.
- "And her boots are very plain." -Grasshopper
Meanwhile, Master Zhou spots something falling from the sky towards Shuyan, and warns her to dodge. She dodges, and the hawk swooping in misses her shoulder and lands awkwardly on the ground. It drops a message scroll, and flies off again.
Also enclosed is an invitation (all invitations include a guest as well) to the party; she contemplates who to invite, and then goes back to trying to convince Master Zhou that he should have an act in the circus.
- " Maybe you could narrate stories telling about important virtues, and I could act them out. With knives. Or snakes." -Shuyan
- "I should not be involved in assisting you with your homework." -Master Zhou
- "But you're really hard to talk into things, so if I can do it, then I must be learning."
- "I thought you were a Serpent, not a Fox."
Down in the City of Spires, Kasumi grows bored with waiting for the circus to arrive - it should definitely have gotten there already - and heads north to meet it on the road. When she asks about the delay, Grasshopper explains with many expostulations about Yoshi being poisoned, and Kasumi (who had been in mourning over Lijuan's death as she was out of town for the planning) realizes that Grasshopper is just Lijuan with a shaved head.
The circus does, finally, arrive at the City of Spires, and Cai Wen finally hears that there may be an upcoming party, thrown by the King on the river itself, where the Jasmine and the Pearl join. The party will be thrown to celebrate the visit of Zi Miro Khan, the Imperial Regent from the Jade Taiga. Rumor has it that all four of the big Dukes will be in attendance, as well as the Pearl of the Taiga. Kasumi looks unhappy - she has to go to the party, but she doesn't want to be Cai Wen's moll. Shuyan invites Xiao Fa - Shuyan herself is going to meet Snow Wolf, but maybe Xiao Fa can meet someone interesting too! Back at the circus, a messenger arrives with invitations for Ringmaster Te and Cai Wen.
Kuan-Xi comes to find Kasumi - is she going to the party? If she is, Kasumi should bring Anto, so if anything happens, he'll be on hand. Kuan-Xi has been asked by Baron Song, and since Anto doesn't have an invitation, she's accepted. Kasumi says Shuyan is going too, so Kuan-Xi declares they should all go shopping for party clothes. Kasumi says she has a dress already, but Kuan-Xi isn't impressed by it, and takes the other two shopping at a higher-end dress store. While they're in the store, Kasumi overhears another woman mention Cai Wen's name, and is immediately reassured - whoever that is must be his moll.
The circus gives its performance for the evening, with Ringmaster Te keeping a careful eye on all the potentially dangerous acts. Everyone allowed to perform passes.
After the circus, Cai Wen hears someone hurrying up behind him. It turns out to be Fen-Si, one of Cai Wen’s friends who works in the royal palace.
- "Zhu Cai Wen, who knew you would be in town?"
She explains that there will be a big royal party tomorrow - since it isn't happening at the palace, she will be at loose ends... Cai Wen graciously picks up the hint being repeatedly dropped in front of him, and invites Fen Si to the party. He mentions that there are several VIPs in town who may not have appeared on the social invitation list - Master Zhou of Iron Mountain and Master Deng Zhi-Hao, arms master of the Beautiful Court. She thinks she might be able to get an invitation that they could share; that leaves only Grasshopper without a way to get to the party, though he says he should be staying to keep an eye on Yoshi anyway. When the invitation does arrive, though, it is a VIP invitation for Master Zhou, and he can bring two guests.
As people pick up their performance tips, Kasumi finds a note wrapped around one of her zhu:
Ringmaster Te congratulates everyone on a circus performance well done; due to the party tomorrow, there will be no circus performance, so everyone should enjoy the holiday. Cai Wen explains the Urbanity rules for parties in the Taiga.
The next morning, Reiko meets Anto, when nobody else is nearby. She informs him that it is time to carry out the bargain that they had previously made regarding the bandits pillaging the New Rivers area. As agreed, he’s to deal with them - feel free to tell Yoshi about it and solve things his way if they can, but otherwise, Anto'll have to kill them - or just take Master Deng along, he loves that. To find out more, she has acquired an invitation to the party for Anto - one of the bandits, named Zorn Cho, will be there. Feel free to talk to him, kidnap him, or whatever - but it's a royal party, so just do that afterwards. She also notes that they're protected somehow - when the Shadow summoned all the bandits, they didn't show. That's why the Shadow is particularly pissed at them.
Elsewhere that morning, Xiao Fa discovers that Yoshi has gotten worse during the night - his tongue has swollen up and prevents him from talking. Xiao Fa thinks that it's caused by demonic influence, not poison - a small influence from a large demon, so it could be tough to remove. But it should go down on its own if he stays calm and quiet. On that note, Anto arrives.
- "Hey, Yoshi - can you reform people without talking?"
- "I oo ii oo."
- "Hmm. Maybe you'll get better by the time you have to deal with the bandits."
- "Aaa ah ii?!"
- "Anto, can we talk outside?" -Xiao Fa
Party on the Rivers
The rest of the afternoon passes uneventfully, and then the group heads to the city docks for the Royal party. Kasumi, Kuan-Xi, and Shuyan have +1 status for their new clothes, and Master Zhou has +1 status for his VIP invitation. Kasumi brings the monkey Tofu, prepped with the “Tinciture” of Pure Respite - Cai Wen orders Kasumi to make sure that if the monkey steals the Fox Talisman from Zhao Feiyan, that it must be GIVEN BACK. Xiao Fa activates the love potion given to him by Yanyu, pouring half of it into a tin left outside at the circus, just in case it is needed.
The party guests get into two-person boats; the King and the four Dukes have their own anchored barges, but the smaller boats are propelled by oarsmen, with the best oarsmen going to the highest-status people.
The party attendees include:
- Team "Green" is the King, the Regent, Baron Song, and various royal armsmen.
- Teams Blue and Red are the Water and Fire Dukes and their aides, including So Ren and his kitsune wife.
- People not on a team include the party, Zhao Feiyan, Snow Wolf and Snow Leopard, Zorn Cho, the King's Architect, and the two young women arranged by Yanyu.
The party begins dramatically, as Grasshopper manages to politely suggest to Master Zhou that he would no doubt be happier on some other boat, and gets rid of him.
- "Fear is a great motivator." -Grasshopper
Cai Wen (who has some of the highest status on the river, due to cleaning up well plus the Butterfly Talisman), navigates over to Zhao Feiyan's boat. He asks her for the latest social news and happenings, and hears about the two eligible young women. Lady Dewu is the daughter of a local silk merchant - she is both clever and rich. Lady Chanhuan is the second daughter of a baron - she’s called (or calls herself) the Peach Blossom, and is (in Feiyan's opinion) a bit of a social climber. Also, Duke Lan's advisor So Ren just came back from a very long honeymoon with his new wife. And Baron Song is here with a disguised princess from the Shrouded Isle. Cai Wen notes that she is very well informed.
The drift on the river (downstream away from the royal and ducal platforms) proves rather strong, so it's difficult for the low-status people to get up towards the higher-status people. Though the boat with Snow Wolf and Snow Leopard seems to move strangely fast despite not having particularly good oarsmen.
Master Zhou, having switched into the King's Architect's boat, asks him about who he has trained with; the architect pontificates unfortunately ineptly, and while he mentions the name Huan Ken (a name Master Zhou was hoping to hear), he doesn't say anything interesting.
Kasumi convinces Lady Dewu to swap into Zhi-Hao's boats.
- "I've heard all his stories before." -Kasumi
- "Oh, dear, he sounds boring..." -Lady Dewu
- "Hey!" -Zhi-Hao
- "Oops, I did that wrong. I should have said that he had heard all my stories before." -Kasumi
Zhao Feiyan gets Cai Wen to ditch Fen Si (much to the latter's disappointment), to help her drive her boat around to all the ducal platforms. Cai Wen spends three urbanity begging for Fen Si's forgiveness, which does mollify her. Since Cai Wen has recently saved the life of the Blue Duke, he is able to ask for a favor for the Pearl at a cheaper urbanity rate.
In the first real excitement of the party, the King's man on a particularly overcrowded boat with the Peach Blossom falls into the river. This is very gauche, and all the King's party suffers an urbanity loss.
Lady Dewu notes to Master Deng that she heard that the Architect was interested in getting permission to rebuild one of the spires. Ah, maybe that would be the thing he would be trying to ask for a favor from the Regent for. Speaking of which, the Architect asks for Master Zhou's help in getting their boat farther in the Regent's direction, but Master Zhou must most regretfully decline, as he has urgent business to speak to Ringmaster Te about.
In addition to the official refreshment boats (mostly upriver), there are unofficial refreshment stands on the riverbanks. Someone on the Savanna-shore riverbank tries to bribe Kasumi for a ride to the Forest of Chin side of the river, but she isn't interested. How about just taking the box to the other side? Alas, no. (What she really needs is urbanity, not money, but the people not in the party mechanic can't help with that). One of the King's men lures Zhi-Hao away from his pretty girl, offering him urbanity in exchange for help moving his boat.
The bandit Zorn hints to Cai Wen that they should swap places, but he declines. Cai Wen offers to make it up to him - where can they meet later? The bandit says he can often be found in a particular inn in New Rivers. Master Zhou offers Zhi-Hao a few urbanity for introductions to Lady Dewu.
Duke Hong provides Cai Wen with a political briefing, including the anecdote of Baron Song attempting to arrange an audience with the King, but having most amusing trouble with the current. Duke Hong expects that anyone who can help him get upstream would get quite a lot of urbanity. Master Zhou isn't sure the party should be helping Baron Song at all.
- "He seems like a half-bad guy." --Tom
- "He's Min Feng's half brother." --Mike
- "Well, Min Feng seems like a bad guy half the time, so it makes sense." --Meg
Xiao Fa swaps with Snow Leopard, so Snow Wolf gets to be in the boat with Shuyan, part of his goal for the evening. Lady Dewu spends ten urbanity to hint that she would really like it if the social-climbing Peach Blossom were to unfortunately fall in the river, and Zhi-Hao agrees to accidentally make it so.
Xiao Fa has been asked by Grasshopper to tell a story, but they are on different boats now; he mimes a story about box smugglers to him. Snow Leopard, intrigued, asks where the heroic box of the story is; Xiao Fa asks for a story of why the box is interesting. Snow Leopard says that it contains evidence - papers and documents that could be used against the government of the Forest, which her client wants to prevent. She spends six urbanity to ask Xiao Fa for his assistance in getting the box, but he must, alas, decline.
Master Zhou spends some of his urbanity to ask the Architect to talk to him about Huan Ken after the party, and Lady Dewu spends her last two to ask Master Zhou to assist Master Deng with his navigation. Anto asks Zorn about the fighting in New Rivers, including any battles with bandits, but he declines.
As clouds begin to roll in, portending rain, the Pearl has gotten three favors with help from Cai Wen, and only needs the fourth. Zhi-Hao asks the architect for help in getting to the other branch of the river quickly, but rather than join him in his boat, the architect tells him about the secret short cut between the two sides between the refreshment stands on the Taiga side, and the Architect's boat is still on target for reaching the Regent.
Spending her last urbanity to request of Grasshopper "Would you do me the honor if this fails, of trying it yourself?" Kasumi leaps onto the Architect's boat from half the river away, and it promptly capsizes.
Unaligned people take urbanity damage from falling into the river, but Cai Wen spends a karma to cheat the Pearl into being on his team instead. With that, she is able to get her last favor, spending the last of her urbanity. Snow Wolf takes Shuyan to the private cove upriver, and she asks him for the favor of accepting her apology for standing him up last time. Baron Song makes it to the Royal barge, but does not have sufficient urbanity to ask for a private audience before the heavens open up and the rain begins. He’ll have to settle for a public audience.
In the aftermath of the party, the Mysterious Crate of Evidence is recovered by one of the King's men, who gives it to Baron Song as the closest higher-ranking member of the royal party. The Peach Blossom has outdone Lady Dewu (since Zhi-Hao didn't end up putting her in the river). Kasumi has ended with negative urbanity for her dreadfully gauche leap, but the House of Night's Promise has arranged for her to be authorized to end negative, and it doesn't hurt her reputation in the long run. Zhi-Hao, who has ended with a lot more urbanity than he started, can parlay that into an extra bonus on his next party invitation.
The group discusses what the plan regarding the bandits is. Cai Wen would like to try to reform them, as the Shadow has gone to some trouble to prevent that, but the fighters are itching for combat and nobody is sure that anyone but Yoshi has any chance of bandit reformery.
Anto suggests a plan of Zhi-Hao and himself meet up with the bandit at the inn where Cai Wen learned he might be later. They can pretend to want to join up and become bandits themselves, and if they get hired, betray the bandits and kill them once they're brought in. More likely, their pretense will be seen through, but they can then follow the bandit back to their camp.
Cai Wen's prediction (based on a new shtick he got from River Ford), is that Zorn will have a way to warn the camp, and they'll be able to arrange an ambush. So, instead, the group just arranges to have the particularly stealthy people like Kasumi follow Zorn back to his camp, so the party can spring the ambush instead.
The stealth plan goes pretty well - the group sneaks in at night, when most of the bandits are sleeping, and the bandits on guard don't spot the most stealthy people. Kasumi overhears in one of the tents, Zorn is reporting: the party was too short, so he didn't have a chance to get the dukes to hire him to go somewhere else. Zorn and his boss complain a bit about the fact that the Forest of Chin is no longer paying them, but perhaps they can find someone else to hire them to cause trouble.
In the surprise round, there is quite a bit of chopping, and then Cai Wen calls upon everyone to surrender. Sadly, the best he feels he can truthfully claim is "Surrender and you'll be treated lawfully" which is not very attractive.
- "Those who surrender will contend with our conscience instead of our blades. I assure you your chances are better." -Cai Wen
- "Double share of loot for anyone who takes one of them down!" -Bandit Leader
Now it's a social combat between Cai Wen and the bandit leader, though, which Cai Wen is pretty good at. One of the bandits uses his loot sense on the group, and everyone has to put up fingers for how many "cool magic items" they have - the people with three become the primary targets. Unfortunately, when his first two thefts garner him some honeyvine seeds and Xiao Fa's herb satchel, he decides that they're being attacked by killer gardeners and the cool magic items just aren't all that cool.
Much carnage ensues, though the bandits are a tougher match than the group is expecting. Cai Wen guesses that if the two leaders go down, their morale will crack and the rest will surrender. Carnage continues, and Anto puts up a wall of earth which has the effect of trapping most of the bandits on the side with Zhi-Hao, while the rest of the party is safe on the other side.
- "Aren't you a ninja? Can't you get over a wall?" -Zhi-Hao to Kasumi
With the tactical plan of taking down the leaders more clear, the leaders fall, and the other bandits surrender. The missing magic items, however, are still missing - the thief has a "bag of temporary holding" which causes the items to vanish if the bag leaves his possession. One of the bandits has good (12-def) armor, and Zorn's tent has some papers concerning their having been previously hired by the Forest of Chin. The leader's diary covers some of the details of running the band of bandits, and also indicates that the reason that they were protected from the Shadow was that the leader was a descendant of one of the Shadow's previous hosts, so he knew a lot about the demon. Ahah, so that would be why the Shadow didn't want to let Yoshi reform them.
- "Well played, sir." -Xiao Fa
What to do with the prisoners is another question - they could be turned over to the local authorities and hanged; alternately, the group could give Yoshi a chance at reforming some of them. Cai Wen promises that if they come back (the party is in the Savanna now, so crossing the border with prisoners could be tricky) to be reformed by Yoshi, they won't be killed, so the captured bandits play along in order to get back to the circus.